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Arcata Plaza
Arcata Plaza
Official seal of Arcata
Location within Humboldt County in California
Location within Humboldt County in California
Arcata is located in California
Location in California
Arcata is located in the United States
Location in the United States
Country United States
State California
County Humboldt
Incorporated February 2, 1858
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Total 11.44 sq mi (29.63 km2)
 • Land 9.42 sq mi (24.40 km2)
 • Water 2.02 sq mi (5.23 km2)  17.25%
23 ft (7 m)
 • Total 18,857
 • Density 2,001.59/sq mi (772.83/km2)
Time zone UTC−8 (Pacific Time Zone)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP codes
95518, 95521
Area code 707
FIPS code 06-02476
GNIS feature IDs 277471, 2409723

Arcata ( Wiyot: Goudi’ni; Yurok: Oket'oh) is a city adjacent to the Arcata Bay (northern) portion of Humboldt Bay in Humboldt County, California, United States. At the 2020 census, Arcata's population was 18,857. Arcata was first settled in 1850 as Union, was officially established in 1858, and was renamed Arcata in 1860. It is located 280 miles (450 km) north of San Francisco (via Highway 101), and is home to California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. Arcata is also the location of the Arcata Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for the administration of natural resources, lands and mineral programs, including the Headwaters Forest, on approximately 200,000 acres (810 km2) of public land in Northwestern California.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.0 square miles (28.5 km2), of which 9.1 square miles (23.6 km2) is land and 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2) (17.25%) is water.

Arcata contains major public and shopping areas within the city. They include: the Downtown/Plaza Area, Northtown, and Valley West (each of these are also large neighborhoods). There are additional named neighborhoods encompassed by the city: They include: Aldergrove, Alliance (which was once a separate community located North of Arcata), Arcata Bottoms, portions of Bayside (despite it having its own Post Office and postal code), Bayview, California Heights, Fickle Hill (lower portions), Greenview, South G Street, Redwood Park (which includes the City owned Redwood forest), Sunny Brae, Sunset, and Westwood. Arcata also has the Arcata Marsh, a preserve located on the City's bay shore.


Arcata's climate is dominated by marine influences associated with Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On average, Arcata experiences 40 to 50 inches (1,000 to 1,300 mm) of rain per year, though there is a short but pronounced dry season from June to September. Northerly winds keep the spring very cool and create a coastal upwelling of deep, cold ocean water. This upwelling in turn results in foggy conditions throughout the summer, with high temperatures commonly in the 50s and low 60s. Yet just a few miles inland the temperatures may be up to 25 degrees warmer in the summer and fall. Winter high temperatures average in the low 40s to mid-50s, with lows in the mid-30s to lower 40s. Temperatures infrequently dip below 30 °F (−1 °C) in the winter, and nearly as infrequently climb above 72 °F (22 °C) in the summer and fall.

Average monthly temperatures and precipitation

Climate data for Arcata, California
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 53
Average low °F (°C) 42
Precipitation inches (mm) 8.6
Source: Weatherbase


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 702
1890 962 37.0%
1900 952 −1.0%
1910 1,121 17.8%
1920 1,486 32.6%
1930 1,709 15.0%
1940 1,855 8.5%
1950 3,729 101.0%
1960 5,235 40.4%
1970 8,985 71.6%
1980 12,850 43.0%
1990 15,197 18.3%
2000 16,651 9.6%
2010 17,231 3.5%
U.S. Decennial Census
Logging in Humboldt County
Industry in Humboldt County
Pythian Castle Arcata CA
The Pythian Castle building in Arcata is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jacoby Storehouse Arcata CA
The Jacoby Building, commonly known as Jacoby's Storehouse, on the Plaza in Arcata, is one of Humboldt County's oldest commercial buildings (the first floor dates from 1857), and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Logging bust

Changing populations have happened in timber and mining towns in the American West as a result of boom and bust economic cycles. Some towns decrease in population following a bust, while some, like Arcata, experience a change in demographics. In the case of Arcata, the peak and the bust were close due to Arcata's relatively late entry into the timber industry, and its domination by mechanization. The population of the city of Arcata was 3,729 during its peak 1950, when lumber was exported throughout the country and abroad. For the County of Humboldt, the age distribution for urban residents, which would include Arcata, had 23.7% of the population under the age of 15. Those that would be considered young workers (age 15–24) made up 14% of the population. "Normal" aged workers (age 25–39) made up 23.9% of the population. Older working age (age 40–54) made up 19.4% of the population. Pre-retirement aged (age 55–64) made up 9.7% of the population. Those of retirement age (age 65 and older) made up 9.1% of the population. For Arcata specifically, those age 65 and older were 8.3% of the population in 1950, and the median age was 29.4 years.

After the bust, in 1955, the population of Arcata in 1960 was 5,235. In Arcata the population under the age of 15 was 28.1%. Those age 15–24 made up 22.8% of Arcata's population. Those age 25–39 made up 19.4% of the population. Those age 40–54 made up 16% of Arcata's population. Those age 55–64 made up 6.7% of Arcata's population. Those age 65 and over made up 6.9% of Arcata's population.

Overall, census data reflects a lowering in the age of the Arcata population, due to an influx of young workers, due to there not being enough time after the bust for older workers to leave, in the decade between 1950 and 1960, during which the timber industry peaked and busted.

2010 Census data

The 2010 United States Census reported that Arcata had a population of 17,231. The population density was 1,567.4 people per square mile (605.2/km2).

The racial makeup of Arcata was:

  • 14,094 (81.8%) White,
  • 2,000+ (11.6%) Hispanic or Latino,
  • 1,135 (6.6%) from two or more races,
  • 769 (4.5%) from other races,
  • 454 (2.6%) Asian,
  • 393 (2.3%) Native American,
  • 351 (2.0%) African American, and
  • 35 (0.2%) Pacific Islander,

The Census reported that 15,486 people (89.9% of the population) lived in households, 1,745 (10.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0 were institutionalized.

There were 7,381 households, out of which 1,275 (17.3%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 1,651 (22.4%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 649 (8.8%) had a female householder with no husband present, 325 (4.4%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 764 (10.4%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 75 (1.0%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 2,730 households (37.0%) were made up of individuals, and 524 (7.1%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.10. There were 2,625 families (35.6% of all households); the average family size was 2.73.

The population dispersal was with 2,164 people (12.6%) under the age of 18, 5,891 people (34.2%) aged 18 to 24, 4,619 people (26.8%) aged 25 to 44, 3,149 people (18.3%) aged 45 to 64, and 1,408 people (8.2%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 26.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 99.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.0 males.

There were 7,722 housing units at an average density of 702.4 per square mile (271.2/km2), of which 7,381 were occupied, of which 2,519 (34.1%) were owner-occupied, and 4,862 (65.9%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.2%; the rental vacancy rate was 2.2%. 5,496 people (31.9% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 9,990 people (58.0%) lived in rental housing units.

2018 Projected Census Data

The 2018 population of Arcata, California is 18,989 based on projected census data. The US Census estimates the current population of Arcata to be 18,989, of which 5,698 are students at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. In 2019, the citizens of Arcata were of a median age of 26.4 and a median annual income of $35,506.


The heart of Arcata is the Plaza. In the 1850s the Plaza was where goods destined for the Trinity County mines were loaded onto mule trains. The Plaza has a green lawn, extensive flower plantings, and at its center a statue of President McKinley by Haig Patigian. The Plaza is surrounded by bookstores, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and live music venues. The Plaza is also the center of Humboldt County's largest farmer's market (April through November), and serves as a major venue for local Fourth of July festivities, the Arcata Main Street Oyster Festival, the start of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, and the North Country Fair. The North Country Fair Samba Parade has been a community favorite since 1986. The Plaza is also a popular rendezvous point for travelers who stop off in Arcata. The annual Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance and Drum workshop is held every summer on the HSU campus. The workshop hosts the largest assemblage of Afro-Cuban folkloric music and dance masters in the United States.

Arcata Plaza looking northeast from top of Brizard Building
Arcata Plaza looking northeast from top of Brizard Building

Arcata also features a large number of original Victorian structures, many of which have been restored.

Arcata California Houses
Victorian architecture in Arcata

The Wiyot people who lived in Arcata before the settlers arrived called the Plaza "Goad-la-nah" for the "land a little above the water".

Arcata's Minor Theater is one of the oldest movies-only theaters in the United States which is still in operation. It is also home to the Arcata Theatre.


Indigenous Indian cultures

The Wiyot people and Yurok People lived in this area prior to the arrival of Europeans. "Kori" is the name for the Wiyot settlement that existed on the site of what would become Arcata. The name "Arcata" comes from the Yurok term oket'oh, meaning "where there is a lagoon" (referring to Humboldt Bay), from o-, "place", plus ket'oh, "to be a lagoon". The same name was also used by the Yuroks for Big Lagoon. The natives of this region are the farthest-southwest people whose language has Algic roots, a language family related to Algonquian. The traditional homeland of the Wiyot ranged from the Little River in the north and continues south through Humboldt Bay (including the present cities of Eureka and Arcata) and then south to the lower Eel River basin. The traditional homeland of the Yurok ranges from Mad River to beyond the Klamath River in the north. Today, Arcata is the headquarters of the Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe, who maintain a 20-acre (81,000 m2) reservation close by. California does not have any true sovereign nation Indian tribes and all tribal lands and tribal members are subject to state and local regulations with some notable exceptions. The tribes do maintain exclusive civil jurisdiction. The Local Indian tribes operate several casinos in the area. In a coordinated 1860 massacre, significant numbers of Wiyot people were killed at several locations in and around Humboldt Bay, including the center of their society, the island known to them as Duluwat Island. A local newspaper editor, who would later be known as Bret Harte, was forced to leave the Humboldt Bay area after he editorialized his disgust with the incident.

Law Enforcement

Arcata Police Department is located 736 F St, Arcata, CA 95521. The office is open on weekday's from 9am -5pm; however, they do have 24-hour information recording.


Arcata Plaza 1890s
Arcata Plaza in the 1890s

The Spaniards claimed the area, but never settled it; the first permanent settlements occurred after California was admitted to the Union. Arcata was founded as Union Town or Union (the permanent name change to "Arcata" occurred in 1860). Union was created as a port, and re-provisioning center for the gold mines in the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon mountains to the east, and was very briefly the county seat during this period. It was slightly closer to the mines than Eureka, which gave Union an early advantage. What was to become the first significant town on Humboldt Bay began as Union Company employees laid out the plaza and first city streets in the Spring of 1850. By later in the 1850s redwood timber replaced the depleted gold fields as the economic driver for the region and Eureka became the principal city on the bay due to its possession of the better harbor, gaining it the county seat by the end of the decade.

The Union Town post office opened in 1852 and changed its name to Arcata in 1860.

In 1886, concern over the growing number of unassimilated immigrants led Arcata to expel its Chinese population and enact the following resolution: "We, the citizens of Arcata and vicinity, wish the total expulsion of the Chinese from our midst. We endorse the efforts of Eureka to exclude all Chinese settlements in the city and environs."

Recent history

In August 1989, the voters of Arcata passed the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Act, prohibiting work on nuclear weapons, and the storage or transportation of nuclear weapons within the City Limits. The ordinance also minimized the City's contracts for and purchases of the products and services of nuclear weapons contractors. On March 17, 2010, the Arcata city council voted for final passage of a Unlawful Panhandling ordinance (Ordinance No. 1399). Among other restrictions, it forbids panhandling within 20 feet (6.1 m) of any business.



U.S. Route 101 extends north and south and bisects the city. The downtown has several overcrossings; Arcata is considered a fairly walkable community. State Route 299 connects to U.S. Route 101 at the northern end of Arcata. SR 299 begins at this point and extends easterly towards Weaverville, Redding, Alturas, and Nevada. SR 255 Connects to U.S. Route 101 at the southern end of Arcata on Samoa Blvd. and to the west of US-101 passes through Manila. Bridge access (left at first controlled intersection) leads to Eureka through Woodley island and Indian island (using three bridges) ending on 4th (south 101) and 5th (north 101) streets in Eureka, CA. Used as an alternate route to the US-101, its speed limit is 55 mph (89 km/h) though, unlike the speed on Highway 101 – which from the Bayside cutoff to Gallagher lane north 101 and x street south 101 is 50 mph (80 km/h) due to a safety corridor.

The highways connecting Arcata to areas outside Humboldt County include long segments of winding two-lane road traversing remote mountains and river canyons, portions of which may close after extensive rain and wind storms, requiring possibly long detours. While Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna and the Redwood Coast region are part of the most populous state in the US, the Redwood Coast region is also one of the most remote locations along the continental US west coast. The city also offers several cycling trails.


Redwood Transit System (RTS) is the major provider of public bus transportation in Humboldt County, with several stops in Arcata. Arcata and Mad River Transit Service (AMRTS) is the local bus and serves Arcata and unincorporated areas such as the bottom. Dial-A-Ride service is available from Humboldt Senior Resource Center through an application process.

Transit and long-haul bus services, including Amtrak and Greyhound, use the Arcata Transit Center as their central interchange point for Arcata.


The closest airport is the Arcata-Eureka Airport located in McKinleyville. This airport was built by the Army Air Corps in World War II in a particularly foggy location, as a site to test fog dispersal techniques. No successful dispersal method appears to have been found, and after demobilization the airfield was given to the County of Humboldt as a civilian airport. This airport is one of the foggiest in the world, resulting in frequent flight delays or cancellations. Some arriving flights are diverted to Redding, California, a three-hour drive to the east, or Crescent City, about 90 miles (140 km) to the north.


There is a deep-water port in nearby Eureka. In 1854, the Union Wharf and Plank Walk Company built redwood plank and rails 2.7 miles (4.3 km) out into the deeper water of Arcata Bay, providing Arcata with a deep-water seaport. This was initially a horse-drawn railroad, though it was later converted to steam. This eventually became the Arcata and Mad River Railroad (now defunct). Arcata's wharf is long gone, and only a few piers can be seen at low tide. Some very small recreational boats can be launched from the foot of I street at the Arcata Marsh at high tide. However, at low tide Arcata Bay becomes a vast mud flat and a challenge to boaters.

Environmental innovation

The Arcata Marsh, a constructed network of freshwater and saltwater ponds initially completed in 1979, demonstrates a revolutionary marsh-based wastewater treatment system. The marsh was built on a retired municipal solid waste dump and has received many awards, including the Innovations in Government award from the Ford Foundation and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The marsh is a popular destination for cyclists, bird watchers, transients, and joggers, and was recently expanded as a part of the McDaniel Slough restoration project.

The City owns a total of 2,100 acres (8.5 km2) of forest land, including the Arcata Community Forest, the Sunny Brae Forest, and the Jacoby Creek Forest. Arcata's community forest lands have been the subject of national media attention. The Arcata Community Forest was originally acquired by the City in order to protect the integrity of its municipal water supply. Upon acquisition in 1955, The Arcata Community Forest was dedicated as the first city-owned community forest in the State of California. Since then it has served many functions including recreation, education, sustainable timber harvesting, and wildlife habitat. The forest serves as the headwaters of many of Arcata's urban streams. In 1979, the citizens of Arcata passed the "Forest Management and Parkland Initiative." The intent of the legislation was to develop a responsible and ecologically sensitive long-term forest management program, which would provide timber-harvest revenues for the acquisition and development of City parkland. In 1998 the Arcata Community Forest was the first municipal forest certified in the U.S. under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Since that time additional acreage has been protected, such as the 175-acre (0.71 km2) Sunny Brae Forest acquisition in 2006, and the 2009 receipt of a donated 185-acre (0.75 km2) conservation easement adjacent to the Arcata Community Forest's northern boundary in the upper Janes Creek watershed.

In August 1989, the voters of Arcata passed the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Act, prohibiting activities benefiting nuclear weapons contractors within city jurisdictional limits.

Arcata residents are active in regional environmental protection, and played a contributing role in the successful effort to preserve the Headwaters Forest from logging. The north coast region is often divided on environmental issues, with conflicts arising between residents and land owners who have made a living harvesting the area's natural resources, and residents aiming to preserve the region's natural habitats.


Kinetic Sculpture Race - And They're Off
Arcata's Plaza is the starting point for the Kinetic Sculpture Race.
  • Kinetic Sculpture Race
  • North Country Fair
  • North Country Fair Samba Parade
  • Godwit Days (Spring Migration Bird Festival, 3rd week in April annually)
  • Arts! Arcata every second Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Arcata Main Street Oyster Festival
  • Fourth of July Jubilee
  • Saturday's Farmer's Market
  • 12 Hours of Humboldt, mountain bike endurance race, August
  • "I" Street Block Party, in the summer to benefit Arcata's sister city
  • Pastels on the Plaza

Sister city

  • Camoapa, Nicaragua


Arcata is home to the Humboldt Crabs, the nation's longest continuously operated semi-pro baseball team, which has played every season since 1945 except for the 2020 season, which was cancelled due to COVID-19 quarantine measures.


Humboldt State University Entrance
Entrance of California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt

Arcata is the site of California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, the northernmost campus of the 23-campus California State University system. With a student body equaling nearly half the city's total population, Arcata is a classic example of a traditional "college town." The city center is 0.8 mi (1.3 km) from the university center and takes about 16 minutes to walk.

The primary public high school is Arcata High School, with a total population of 827 for the 2012–2013 school year. The high school is located at 1720 M Street in Arcata, and is part of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District. The school offers a number of programs, including an Advanced Placement program, special programs through the Arcata Arts Institute, and a variety of student clubs.

Notable people

  • Edward N. Ament (1860-1949) – mayor of Berkeley, California
  • Ash Borer - Atmospheric Black Metal Band
  • Christopher Buckley (b. 1948) – poet
  • Raymond Carver (1938-1988) – writer
  • Wesley Chesbro (b. 1951) – politician
  • Don Durdan (1920-1971) – professional American football and basketball player
  • Robert A. Gearheart (b. 1938) – Humboldt State University professor
  • Steven Hackett (b. 1960) – economist, Humboldt State University professor
  • Bret Harte – writer
  • Dan Hauser – politician
  • Garth Iorg (b. 1954) – professional baseball player
  • Christa Johnson (b. 1958) – professional golfer
  • Naomi Lang (b. 1978) – Olympic ice dancer
  • Tim McKay (1947-2006) – environmentalist
  • Nate Quarry (b. 1972) – Mixed Martial Arts fighter
  • Eric Rofes (1954-2006) – writer
  • Steve Sillett – botanist
  • Greg Stafford – game designer
  • James Allen Taylor – decorated Army officer
  • Willi Unsoeld – mountaineer
  • Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) – entertainer
  • Gary Wilson (b. 1970) – professional baseball pitcher
  • Pamela Wu (b. 1974) – newsanchor

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